While some students were in warm places like Florida or the Bahamas to relax during winter break, Jeff Zatkoff was in place a bit cooler. Teaming up with some of the best collegiate ice hockey players in the nation, Miami’s sophomore goaltender traveled across the Atlantic to Sweden, in representing the United States against the top junior competition in the World Junior Hockey Championships.
“It definitely was an honor to be picked and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Zatkoff said. “We stayed out in log cabins and not in hotels and we were living in the wilderness – kind of like the cabins in Rocky IV. Aside from the food, it was a fun experience and nothing like I imagined.”
Miami Head Coach Enrico Blasi added that this not only was an honor for Zatkoff, but also for the team.
“Obviously, he’s worked extremely hard and he deserved to be on that team,” Blasi said. “Any time you can represent your country, it’s a great honor not only for Jeff and his family, but also for our team. Anybody that is recognized on our team means a lot to the program.”
Zatkoff appeared in one exhibition and two regular games for the Red, White and Blue, compiling a 1-2 record and a 3.46 goals against average. Zatkoff thought he did well during the tournament, but would have liked to get those other two wins against Canada and Germany.
“The first Canada game, we lost 6-3, but I thought I played well,” Zatkoff said. “There were a couple of weird bounces and there was one that I thought I should have had, but didn’t get. Against Germany, I thought I played well, too. But it was one of those games where you didn’t really get the bounces and there’s not much you can say. I still thought I played well, but I just didn’t come out on top.”
In their championship finale, Team USA notched a 2-1 victory over the host Sweden, securing a bronze medal to bring back to the States.
In Zatkoff’s absence, the RedHawks were still able to continue their solid play, compiling a 2-2 with goaltender Charlie Effinger between the pipes. After splitting with Michigan State this past weekend, the Miami and Notre Dame sit tied atop the CCHA standings with 23 points apiece. Blasi felt that Zatkoff’s absence did not affect the team’s performance at all in theirfour games.
“I’ve always said that we have two of the top goalies in the country,” Blasi said. “Earlier in the year when Charlie was down with mono, Jeff had to carry the load and did a great job. When Jeff was gone, it was Charlie’s time to carry the load and he did a great job. Goaltending has been something that’s been an absolute positive for our team in the last couple years and no matter who plays for us in net, we feel very confident.”
Zatkoff’s selection to the team marked the second straight year that a Miami hockey player was selected to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships. Junior forward Nathan Davis traveled to British Columbia last year to serve as an assistant captain for the team.
The back-to-back selections of Davis and Zatkoff have shown the quality of competition that Miami brings to the table each year.
“I think we’re hopefully recruiting top-notch players that have an opportunity to be selected for those teams,” Blasi said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the individual and how hard they work and what they do when they go to camp. Obviously, Nate last year and Jeff this year, they did a real good job of putting themselves in the situation where they can be there.”
As for the experience with the team, Zatkoff thought the chemistry was very good considering that many of these players compete against each other in heated rivalries during the regular season.
“All in all, I thought we came in together really well,” Zatkoff said. “We started off playing as individuals, but I think when our backs were against the wall, we played together and played as a team.”
After being drafted over the summer by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL and being selected to the junior national team, Zatkoff’s future is looking pretty bright. However, he is only focused only one thing right now, and that’s his time playing for the RedHawks.
“I’m at Miami and I’m wearing the ‘M’ on my sweater and that’s all that matters to me right now,” Zatkoff said. “If something comes along in the future then we’ll deal with it, but for now, I’m here at Miami and that’s all that matters.”